Jefferson the Radical

I had forgotten how close the election of 1801 was until reading Jefferson’s biography. Jefferson was looked upon as a radical, far too democratic in nature, by the Federalist Party. Jefferson’s own great fear was that the Federalists would want to re-align with England and that the American revolution and experiment in government would have all been for nothing. The election hung between Jefferson and Aaron Burr, nominally a Republican and Jefferson’s running mate, but had Burr received more votes, he would have been President. Jefferson won out despite the obvious politicking done by Burr to capture the Presidency.

The concept of what is or is not radical is often hard to make out in retrospect. English furniture was radically affected by the design work of William Kent, whose inspiration was entirely Italian and baroque in style. His work for Robert Walpole at Houghton House and later at other houses such as Holkham, changed English furniture style completely. You can learn about this at the Bard Graduate Center on 86th St. where there is a magnificent exhibition on William Kent. His influence helped create an English style that was unique and not reliant on Italian, Dutch or French inspiration.

Jefferson is now revered by both parties. He was a Republican and so the present day Republican Party lays claim to him, but his Republicanism was a far cry from what Republicans stand for today. Jefferson was against hereditary privilege and at the least, would disagree with the passing of excessive amounts of money (read privilege) from one generation to the next.  It is, however, Jefferson’s flaws that are magnified by those who wish to trivialize the third President’s contributions to American democracy. That is an easy thing to do as he was clearly hypocritical in his handling of both slavery and native Americans. That flaw should not be overlooked, but it is not his only legacy.

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